Making Cider & Perry
Cider is made from the fermented juice of apples
All types of apples can be used but the choice of apple types and therefore style of cider, is often down to geographic and climatic conditions. It is highly probable that wherever apples grew, local folk would make cider from the available fruit.
West Country ciders (ie: Somerset, Herefordshire, etc) use a high proportion of – or uniquely – true cider apples which contain high amounts of tannins and sugars. They are usually unpleasant to eat, the tannins making them bitter tasting, but these properties of the fruit help produce richly flavoured and full-bodied ciders. The tannins also often produce lasting spicy flavours and mouth-drying bitterness on the palate.
Eastern Counties style ciders are made from a high proportion of – or uniquely – dessert and culinary fruit, of variable ratios. According to tradition, such ciders originated in Kent and Suffolk, but this is very questionable as some of the very early cider-makers who wrote about their craft lived and made cider around England, including the (sadly anonymous) author of “The Compleat Planter & Cyderist” (1683) who lived in or around Nottingham. However, “Kentish Cider” is a recognised style. Eastern Counties style ciders tend to be lighter, paler, sharper and crisper than West Country ciders as they are made using apples with much lower tannin content and higher acid content; they are often described as “wine-like”.
Perry is made from the fermented juice of pears
Just as with cider, perry has a long history within the British Isles and just as wild apples (‘crabs’ of ancient European or Siberian ancestry) grew around Britain, so did wild pears. However, it took until the links with and conquests by our near-continental neighbours for pear growing and perry to really get a foothold in Britain. Just like apples, pears have been bred and developed by orchardists, ancient and more recent, to have a range of characteristics suited to eating, cooking – or making perry. Just like apples and cider, perry can of course be made with all types of pears, but the true perry pear is the best choice for a full flavour and full-bodied drink.
Perry pears are usually best described as “bitter little bullets” – they seldom resemble the traditional pear-shape, often being round and looking like small apples. They are very rich in tannins, sugars and acids and this combination makes a truly different drink to cider, again the most used adjective being “wine-like”. The acknowledged centre for traditional perry making in Britain is the area of the “Three Counties”: Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
‘Pear Cider’ developed as a marketing term and has quickly been adopted by the ad-men as a term to describe sweet, fizzy “perry”. While it certainly helps consumers understand the basic concept of perry (a drink made in the same way as cider but using pears), it has been abused and corrupted by the industrial drinks manufacturers. For example, “Pear Cider” can be used as a label on ‘cider’ flavoured with pear flavourings and aromas (natural or artificial); or used on drinks which have been refermented following the addition of pear juice to cider; or the very fizzy and sweet ‘alco-pops’ made with the imported concentrated juice of Conference pears.
The advice we would give is to think very carefully before parting with money for a “pear cider”. Always choose true perry and one made with fresh-pressed true perry pears. Unfortunately, until we can have compulsory quantitative ingredients labelling for alcoholic drinks, this is not going to be quite so easy to do. Buyer beware.
Note that cider is made not brewed – brewing implies the use of heat, for example when making beer.
Real cider is made by gathering ripe apples and leaving them to soften and mature off the tree for anything from a few days to a few weeks. This harvesting usually takes place between the months of September through to December in the UK, depending upon the apple variety. When fully ready, the apples are washed and crushed or ‘milled’ to produce a fine pulp of porridge-like consistency called ‘pomace’. This pulp is wrapped in porous cloths which allow the juice to escape and then pressed under many tons of force.
The fresh-pressed juice is poured into containers where the natural yeasts present in and on the fruit begin the process of fermenting the sugars found within the juice. It is imperative that air is excluded but the carbon dioxide produced by the action of the yeasts is allowed to escape. Fermentation and maturation takes many months during which time the cider is racked to help it to clear and stabilise. Unless fermentation is artificially stopped by the addition of chemicals; by a process called ‘keeving’; or by heating, all ciders are naturally dry, as the all of the sugars contained in apples are fully fermentable – unlike beers.
Ciders are ‘back’ sweetened by using sugar, saccharin or sucralose. The problem with using sugar (although the most ‘natural’ sweetener) is that the cider will start to re-ferment, whereas saccharin has undesirable after-tastes. Sucralose is becoming more commonly used as a sweetener as it is non-fermentable and has no noticeable after-tastes.
CAMRA website resource: